Brian Ferneyhough is an English composer of contemporary classical music. His complex, multi-layered music is distinctive and his output spans many genres of contemporary music, from chamber works to orchestral pieces.
Ferneyhough's initial forays into composition were met with little sympathy in England. His submission of Coloratura to the Society for the Promotion of New Music (SPNM) in 1966 was returned, with a suggestion that the oboe part should be scored for clarinet. However, whilst Ferneyhough did find it hard, one source of support came from Hans Swarsenski who saw the same thing happen to Cornelius Cardew; Cardew enjoyed a prestigious continental reputation, but a poor one in his homeland. Swarsenski said of Ferneyhough: 'I've taken on an English composer who is I think is enormously talented. If this doesn't work, this is the last time'. Ferneyhough continued to struggle, but the aforementioned Royan festival marked a breakthrough for Ferneyhough's career.
From here, Ferneyhough became closely associated with the so-called New Complexity school of composition (indeed, he is often referred to as the "Father of New Complexity"), characterized by its extension of the modernist tendency towards formalization (particularly as in integral serialism). Ferneyhough's actual compositional approach, however, rejects serialism and other "generative" methods of composing; he prefers instead to use systems only to create material and formal constraints, while their realisation appears to be more spontaneous. Unlike many more formally-inclined composers, Ferneyhough often speaks of his music as being about creating energy and excitement rather than embodying an abstract schema. His pieces rarely use 12-note rows, but do include microtones and frequent use of glissando.
His scores make huge technical demands on performers; sometimes, as in the case of Unity Capsule for solo flute, creating parts that are so detailed they are likely impossible to realize completely. As he acknowledges, numerous performers[weasel words] have refused to take his works into their repertoire because of the great commitment required to learn them and a perception that similar effects can be achieved through improvisation. The compositions have, however, attracted a number of advocates, among them the Arditti Quartet, ELISION Ensemble, the members of the Nieuw Ensemble, Ensemble Contrechamps, Ensemble Exposé, Armand Angster, James Avery, Massimiliano Damerini, Arne DeForce, Friedrich Gauwerky, Nicolas Hodges,Mark Knoop, Geoffrey Morris, Ian Pace, Carl Rosman, Harry Spaarnay, and EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble.